John Clare – ‘I AM’


[  # 74 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]

John_Clare

 

John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet.   Born in Northamptonshire, he was the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and for regularly expressing sorrows at its disruption.   His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is now often seen as one of the important 19th-century poets.   His biographer, Jonathan Bate, states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced.  No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self.”  Many of his poems are filled with a joy he experienced in nature and the countryside.  Sadly, however, for the last 25 years of his life Clare suffered from mental illness and was incarcerated in a mental institution.   In this wistful soul-searching poem, described by some as “one of the greatest poems of sheer despair ever written”, Clare spills out his desolation and detachment from a life which he would dearly love to have lived . . . 

‘I AM’ . . .  by John Clare

 

I AM! yet what I am who cares, or knows? 
My friends forsake me, like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.         5
And yet I am—I live—though I am toss’d.
 
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem         10
And all that’s dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.
 
I long for scenes where man has never trod—
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,         15
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.

 

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8 thoughts on “John Clare – ‘I AM’

  1. Thank you Roland for introducing this poet to us. I feel like going up to him and say; let me be your friend. Nobody can live with such sadness every day and feeling the total lack of self esteem and not having one friend.
    Did he write this after he suffered mental illness? I would love to read something from the time he wrote about nature and his love of it. See how the two compare.
    miriam

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  2. One of my favourite poets Roland and his poetry on the destruction of the countryside could be relevant today. Thank you for sharing this.

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